A few years ago, I was wandering through the library at the school where I work, and there was a book seller vending his wares. Just on the spur of the moment, I asked him if he had Bedknob and Broomstick by Mary Norton.
And he did. Wow. Nostalgia trip! It was like finding an old childhood teddy bear in a forgotten cupboard.
You see, B&B was one of the first books I read independently when I was about six, and I devoured it. The plot was simple, the characters easy to grasp and I loved that book. I still love it, and sometimes still even quote it (“It’s cheaper to spit in a bus”, “Pale hands, my heart is singing…”). I read it over and over, and it soaked into me.
I was utterly transported by it, carried away for the first time I could remember. My love of books and writing is all down to this. Here is where it all started for me.
As a result, B&B is part of who I am today. It got me into reading, and there’s been nothing I’ve ever read since that has given me such simple pleasure. Flicking through it again years later, I was still captivated by it, like finding a childhood toy that can still transport your imagination to another world. It was like stepping back to being six years old again.
I was swept away by it when I reread it, and that’s something every book should do to you. Take you away from where you are and drop you somewhere else, whether it’s by magical bed like in B&B or Platform 9-3/4 of Harry Potter.
There’s an elemental power in the first book we remember reading, something that stops with us for the rest of our lives. One of the reasons I love reading – and one of the reasons I love writing – is to write something like this: Something that doesn’t leave you, but becomes part of who you are as you go through life.
I haven’t come close to writing anything as elegant as B&B yet, which is why I keep trying. I don’t think I’ll ever come close to anything like this wonderful and powerfully simple little story that captured my imagination and then set it free again.
Thank you Mary Norton. Thank you more than I could ever tell you.
Have a favourite childhood book? Leave your comment below.